Thursday, August 9, 2012

The East Coast Road Trip - 2012 Day 1 - I Packed Poo

Last night while we were packing for our trip we smelled what we thought was the sewers backing up. As we live in a basement beach front apt it is not out of the question that this could happen. The Fabreeze made an entrance and cast itself all over the place and that was that. We did blame the dog that lives upstairs because after you play with him, his stench gets into your skin and does not leave. Well that overdose of fabreeze was uncalled for because as I opened my previously packed suitcase to change into some shorts, I notice on the bottom of my new merrells what looked like mud. Naturally being of the inquisitive nature I gave it a good sniff. Yup you guessed it, I PACKED POO.  The long and short of it, the dog upstairs did his business on the lawn and it was not cleaned up until I graciously walked in it. Thanks Bear!
After a good scrub with an old toothbrush, my suitcase being secretly doused with fabreeze without me suspecting we were off.  St. Andrews New Brunswick is our destination with Boston, Vermont and Maine the coming attractions

Our bellies full from a brief stop at Meemas for a tasty dinner of baked beans, scalloped potatoes and meatloaf, we hit the Rainbow bridge around 7 pm. Traffic did not exist so everything was a snap..well except the border guard who seemed to take great pleasure in showing his trainee how people react to questions.  He said "watch this"? Then to me "whats your name?". I know I looked at him with a bit of "really" then said my name . He turned to his recruit and confidently said "See, that's what happens. Well now I am pissed because I am the border guards guinea pig. He asked me a few more questions and these two guys were literally having their way with my reactions to the questions. Bama sees I am getting pissed an quietly says "calm down, they are saying you are telling the truth and are honest". Well that must have been the case (she is usually right) because he just passed back the passports and that was that.

* on a side note, I have crossed some sketchy borders in Central America with scary gun toting evil looking mother fuckers and have  less stress then crossing into the United States of Paranoia.**

Sadly I took the 190 north to Lewiston instead of south to Buffalo and we ended up in a massive lineup for the Queenston Lewistion bridge. Yup just did a lap around Niagara Falls NY. 

 A quick U turn and before you knew we were being lead down interstate 90 east by a moon that seemed to hang in animated suspension in the dead centre of the highway guiding our way.

This Moon fire lit highway was sparse of traffic and we made good time to end up at the Days Inn in Canastoga New York. I have never seen a red moon before and there is suppose to be a blue moon at the end of the month because there are two full moons this month). Now mother nature is just messing with us.

 I really did not know what town we were in when I pulled of the Interstate (95) and asked the nice older woman behind the desk, "by the way, where are we. She gave me a knowing "I know your tired" look. Canastoga's claim to fame is the Boxing Hall of fame. This Days Inn is across the street and the lobby is loaded with famous pictures. Larry Holmes, Joe Frazier good old Canadian boy George Chavalo.

Road Trip Odometer day 1 - 367 km

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Acts of Random Funny

I have think working in retail, a coffee shop or a large box store checkout does not constitute a gratifying day at work. Not the job itself, I respect anyone who goes to work. Its the masses of humanity that treat most service employees person like garbage. Thus it becomes a cosmic bunny hole. Shopping complain that the service worker is miserable and the service workers complain that shoppers are rude.

Today was a bit different when we went into the local Tim Horton's on Fairview Ave in Burlington. It was a nice lazy Saturday and for anyone who does not live in Canada Timmies is daily ritual for  us simple Canadian fol,. It has become a part of our ingrained culture, like Hockey, Good Beer and Poutine. Well we walk in and Bama walks to the counter and asks for her Tea, steeped with milk and sugar. I wander up behind and say to her, "hey, what are you doing talking to that guy". She is used to me acting up and just ignores me. Well the kid behind the counter who was maybe 16 and of middle eastern decent gives me a knowing look and grin with a, "what are you talking about dude". It was hilarious. We joke a bit and have a funny banter going back and forth and he really is a personable kid. I order my coffee, cream only. He comes back looks me straight faced right in the eyes and says , "ok sir one coffee, Double Double".  I start to mumble "but I ordered".....then realize he got me. He has a huge shit eating grin on his face and I laugh my ass off. "Well done man". Bama say turns to me and says "servers you right knucklehead". We finish the simple act in a pretty good mood because the guy working the Tim Hortons showed some personality, charm and wit.

Listen, I worked in the service industry for years. Toiled as a teenage bus boy, dealt with all the grief that comes with being a bartender, waiter and doorman. (** as a door man, I was the littler guy who did all the talking and not the actually hard part of the job**).  Now I don't profess that you go into work bouncing around like a mad person. What I am saying is I know how hard the job can be. Not the physical part of it, or the fact you hate what your doing (change your job if you don't like it but that is another discussions) but i know you tend to get shit on by people who are in no particular order, rude, ignorant, impolite, short of cash, looking for free shit or just plain assholes. What I am saying is, once in a while, take a step back, breathe and have a little fun. Maybe make someone smile, do something silly because people will respond in kind.

** Guys make a girl laugh, because most normal girls notice that over $$$ any day**.

So find a way to perform an act of random funny. I did not realize I do it and I guess I do it allot. What I do know is that when I walk away from a situation and everyone is smiling or laughing, I have a better view of the world.

"Deaths coming, Lifes Foreplay"

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Propane/Natural Gas vs. Charcoal/Wood

Natural hickory smoked flavor. The irony drips off the label as you lick it from your finger tips. Spread this sauce on your meat while you barbeque to taste the great flavor of naturally hickory smoked meat.

When did propane powered stainless steel soul less BBQing actually take over from charcoal? Have you ever noticed that when you fire up an old school brickette bbq everyone within nasal power says "Oh I love that smell, and meat always tastes better on charcoal" . They then turn and tend to their propane powered dinner preparations. To add the insanity you can now add wood chips to your propane barbeque to enhance the flavor

Today's question is. Why do we give up something we like and that is better for something inferior just because its easier?

I am in a position right now where I can rekindle my love affair with old school outdoor cooking. I bought a $28.00, yes your read it correctly, $28.00 bbq from Canadian Tire.
When I asked the clerk for a hibachi she looked at me like I was from another planet. Another era, sure, but come on, its a hibachi. Solid cast iron, small and portable.
Well she directed me to the new line of charcoal wonders. Cheap Chinese made tin balls of crap but whats a guy to do. My new outdoor cooking life had to start some where. I was not going to be denied.

We have become condition to fast. Send a text and expect a reply in less then 15 seconds or start stressing. Want to eat, it better be ready in 5 to 8 minutes. We are compelled to rush to work so we can switch from mobile device to laptop as quickly as possible in case we miss anything.

I guess my thought is this. If you know something is good and you like it more then go for it, especially if it takes a little more time to get it. Anticipation is a part of every enjoyed experience. Most great dinners I have had (less the familiar family bullshit) the food took all day to cook and sometimes preparation was 2 days..but they were amazing dinners.

So turn off the propane, put away the smoked flavored sauce and open up the brickettes, then take your time with that burger because clean up is a breeze.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

About 4 Months Later....

My buddy Ed Blomeley recently asked me "Are you having a Bobby Ewing - waking up and everything was just a dream- moment. I was sitting at my new job with Thomson Reuters on the 4th floor of a sparkling new high rise at Bay and Adelaide dead in the middle of Toronto's financial district. After 21 months away I was literally right back where I had started. I loved that and the Groundhog day feeling I was having.

That I recently I put a close on my 21 month Latin American tour I reflected quite a bit on the comment and it made me smile. I accomplished everything that I set out to do when I decided to head out and clear my head after a prolonged shutdown of an office I worked to establish. Seeing 10 years of your hard work literally being tossed away and not existing any longer just because some executive was trying cut heads to save his job was jolting. With NO support at any level I closed and locked the the doors at 119 Spadina Suite 200 for the last time at 4:00 on May 19th, 2010. Jamie Reynolds and I took one look around, gave each other a look of  "job well done" and that was it. The end of STARTCAST.  The sweet irony is that the 3 Sr. Executive that were a part of the decision all lost their jobs the following year. Thank you Karma

The choices I made 2 years ago have lead me to where I am now. If I stayed the course I would be exactly where I was mentally. Sure I spent a boatload of $$ but I am in an great place right now. What more could you ask for.

It is as Dr. Susan Jeffers wrote so many years ago. We must feel the fear and do it anyways.  I think I wrote about how fear paralyzes us daily in a previous post so I will not re-hash it here. Now don't get me wrong.  I am not all about self help or daily positive self affirmations (maybe I should be) however that phrase and book entered my world about 20 years ago and has helped guide me when I was stalled. We all have things in our life that prevent us from making the changes we want to make and the changes we need to make to find just a little

I received great support and feedback about this blog. From the writing, (the attempted) humor and the honestly. The good, the bad and the best feedback of all, "I wrote where anyone could relate to the stories" and "it felt like I was along for the trip with you". It is with this in mind plus the gentle nudging of the woman making the home style burgers for the BBQ right now that I am going to start again.

Anyways, I find this writing therapeutic. I don't have a plan or agenda so lets see where this takes us.

Remember, Deaths Coming, Lifes Foreplay!

Sunday, March 25, 2012


John Krackaur wrote a book called Into The Wild and in 2007 it was made into a fine movie staring Emile Hirsch. It is the true story of Christopher McCandless who went looking for something that was missing, something better then the trappings of his expected life. He had an incredible journey and did find what he was looking for. Call it what you want but it took his death, alone in the Alaskan wilderness for him to realize he had found what he was seeking. Just before he died he wrote, Happiness...Only Real When Shared.
In August of 2010 I felt it was my time. I had missed many of life's milestones and found myself going through the motions of my life but dreaming in my head. It was time to see what was out there and view the world with eyes wide open. Tragic or Romantic I was prepared to go the distance.

I put together a plan and to give it texture and I said 100 countries in 3 years with a 3 part plan. It was not until I started writing my blog that I realized how I used 3 as my safety net. I used it conversations and even blogged about it. The truth was I was not going to stop until I found my place, my happiness and I did not care where it was. I knew that when I found it that is where I belonged. I was going to embrace it with everything that I was..complete and unconditional. So off I went, a head full of dreams.

Now as I bounced around I found myself in places that were always a historical footnote. Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador and Nicaragua were war zones 25 years ago. Through Costa Rica and Panama and into Ecuador and Peru. The Patagonia in Chile and Argentina, small and fun Uruguay and the mysterious Bolivia. Ushuaia the most southern city in the world and then the crown jewel, Antarctica. Come on Ken really, Antarctica!! Such a small part of the world this trip, however the longer I was on the road more it became a bit of a chore to do so. How was wandering any different then sitting at a desk and going through routine when you are alone.

Looking for happiness is scary. You have to be totally honest with yourself. Who you are, where you have been, owning your past both good and bad. What is it that you want? How many people can answer that question?  Exposing yourself has to be the scariest thing a person can do, and its hard! However when you do, wow the things that can happen!

August 2, 2011 I received a bolt out of the blue. On November 22, 2011 my journey would forever be altered and on March 2, 2012 I understood... Happiness...Only Real When Shared.

In August of 2010 I decided it was my time, thankfully I did!

Thursday, March 8, 2012

That Big Bird Home

After 10 days of sorting myself out in La Paz it was time to got home, finally. I was ready. I had my emergency travel document, had my crappy rucksack packed and now just needed to wake up on time. I drank a litre of water before I went to bed which is an old school alarm clock. I did not feel real good about getting my 6 am wake up call.

I woke up at 5 30 and my wake up call did not come. Thanks old Indian wake up trick. Cleaned up and ready to go my taxi to the airport was waiting for me. Driving to the airport locals were setting up thier stalls of clothes, shoes and food. It was 6 am. Long days for very little pay. We should all remember that next time we complain about how hard our days are.

I had a few reservations about my travel document. First it did not have a green Bolivian entry stamp. If I had an immigration official who was a prick or having a bad day it was going to cost me.  I had a pocket full of american dollars just in case. Second, would the officials in Peru and El Salvador actually have the training and information to recognize the document. I mean I loved El Salvador but was not ready to spend extended periods of time in the airport, especially with someone waiting for me at Pearson Airport.

La Paz airport checking was easy enough with Taca. My rucksack would travel right through to Toronto. ** When ever I can I try not to transit through the States even it it takes more time and costs a bit more money. Just the aggrivation of having to recheck your bag and re check in is not worth the effort. The security guards in the States are pleasant enough but the aggrivation is not worth the effort, well in my humble opinion.

The Bolivian official seems a bit perplexed when I gave him my document and police report.  When he called over a couple other guys I just thought, man this is going to cost me. He asked how long I have been in Bolivia (30 days is when you are allowed) and I said 27. I had no proof at all as I forgot to print off my airline ticket into Bolivia from Argentina. Then he stamped my paper and just stared at his computer. I stood there for a second and asked if everything was ok and could I move along. He grunted. I said fuck it and walked about thinking alarms would go off and guards woul be tackling and beating me. I am pretty sure he was pissed he could not get a bunch of money from me. However I was off. One more official to deal with who was pleasant and we talked about the theft of my passport. Stressful step number one, Done. Next up was Peru

No worries in Peru. They did not check my document as I put my day pack through the scanner and was on my way to El Salvador within the hour. El Salvador immigration was a bit confused but after 3 guys looking at it with a magnifying glass, seriously, they waved me through. My connections were short and no issues. I was on my way to Canada.

Canadian immigration was easier then normal. I told my story and got a quick welcome home from the customs. Surrendered my document to immigration and walked through the doors to a huge welcoming hug and a Welcome Home Ken.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Embassy Dont Fail Me Now

I have been in La Paz for a week and a bit working through my Passport Issues. Now that carnival is over, I have learned to move to the beat of this very odd city and I have found that I really like it. However after 8 days breathing at this altitude is still tough, the smog gets to you and you can only eat so much deep fried chicken and cold french fries. La Paz does not have the arrogant charm or Buenos Aires, the modern flow of Santiago or the modern and old towns of Quito or Panama City. What is does have is a chaotic frenzy pace with a laid back feel if that is possible,  friendly helpful people, insane drivers, long rolling cobblestone streets, colourful native vendors selling everything from hats to dried llama fetuses, and hidden colonial buildings with pock marked history riddled all over them. La Paz certainly moves to its own weird pace.

Well today was the day. After some back and forth with the glorious Canadian Embassy I was told I would get my travel document at 1 00. Now as much as I want to say this has been stress free, well it has not been. I know the process and procedures just have to be followed, which I did to a letter but I am dealing with Government Bureaucracies and you know that somewhere along the way you are going to get the "oh, by the way we need this or you need to do that". Well there was a friendly voice back in Canada to help me through this and today was no different.

I made a point of being close to the Embassy so when the email came I would be on it like a fat kid on a smartie. I had the walk down as I had done it 4 times now, plus the three cab rides. I found a trusty Internet cafe, logged on to FB and Gmail. Then like a teenager waiting for a phone call I kept hitting check mail every 3 minutes even though the mail would come when it was sent. 12 20 the email comes, my document is ready. I was out the door and ran up the street like a wild man. Ladies selling vegetables we knocked over, cars slammed on their brakes, people moved to the side of the sidewalk or crossed over to the other side of the street. This Gringo was LOCO!

A 45 minute wait, come on! You just said you were ready. Oops forgot, its lunchtime and you can not mess with a government employees lunch break. I needed a beer. Lunch was over and with documents in hand I said good bye to my newest friend the security guard at the embassy door and noticed the rain outside. Screw it, I danced down the stairs doing my best Gene Kelly and walked back to my hotel in a downpour. It was a cleansing so to speak...and now I was getting the This Gringo is LOCO looks from everyone because I was soaked and smiling.

Now its time for a well deserved beer.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

The Chicken Or The Egg

I had everything I needed to get this process going, jumped in a taxi and was rearing to go. Come on Embassy don't fail me now. I found out a bit later that I was the third Canadian that had their passport stolen over Carnival.  I don't know why they told me that, maybe to make me feel better. Either way lets get this show on the road.

All my documents checked out but there was a problem. With the Emergency Transit Document I needed an intinerary which would be printed on that document. I needed to book my flight. There was a small travel agency in the main floor (crazy ironic) plus a bank where I would need to deposit the $81 dollars. Off I went. Now I am an online booking kind of  guy. I like booking my own, well everything online. Its fast and easy and I see my options. Kind of like online banking. If I actually walk into a brick and mortar bank I get real confused. Anyways I needed to book a flight and only had one option. I sat with the agent for about 30 minutes going over various flights and dates. Air Canada god bless you had a flight for just over $2200. I passed. She was great and found various flights with the cheapest going through Miami for $900 (are you listening Air Canada). The caveat to that was she needed a passport number. Up to the embassy I go where they inform me that they can not give me a number until I have a flight booked. I needed a beer or six.

I worked with the travel agent and we agreed going through the states, even though it was cheaper was not an option. A little more work on her part and she found me a great flight. La Paz to Santa Cruz Bolivia which is actually South and West, the exact opposite direction I was heading, but it was only a 45 minute flight. The from Santa Cruz to San Salvador, El Salvador then Toronto. Leave 8 30 am, arrive in Toronto 9 50 pm...all for the same price as the short haul through Miami. I did not need a passport number so I plopped down the credit card and yelled SOLD! She was not amused.

The Embassy had everything it needed and all it had to do was call my references, which they did later that day, confirmed by each of then letting me know. Now its just a waiting game. It was a sunny and warm day and decided to walk. I had keep track of street names and landmarks when in the taxis and the way back was easy enough. What a good decision. I found great side streets, street markets and small parks. Added to the amazing old buildings (some pot marked with bullet holes from the dark times) when I was finding the Police station and finally the police report experience I actually had a good time. Now don't get me wrong, I was stressed, angry at times, frustrated and figured I was going to have to move to Bolivia more than once. Everything that had to be done was done and I was in La Paz. Thing could have been a lot worse. I could have been stranded in worse places. This was still Bolivia man!!

Lets Get This Shit Sorted Out

I find myself back in La Paz after a very cold over night bus ride from Sucre. It is time to sort out my issues and make plans to go home. This has been an incredible journey filled with so many eye opening experiences but its time go home.

I checked into Cruz De Los Andes hotel where I had stayed before. As I figure I will be here for 10 days or so this is a great place to regroup. Great big rooms, free breakfast, computers and a TV in my room. I can think of nothing better then watching bad American programming to pass the time. I found a decent book, The Girl Who Kicked The Hornets Nest, the third novel of the Milenimum series by Stieg Larsson. That should keep me occupied as well. So I settled in and now it was time to get my new passport. Man, what a pain in the proverbial butt.

The Canadian Embassy was expecting me on Wednesday 21st. It is located about a 30 minute walk from the Hotel but I did not know the area so I the hotel call me cab. I went through the slackest security imaginable, went up to the second floor and stepped of the elevator. I was greeted with the most comforting sight I could have imagined. The Big Red Maple Leaf of the Canadian Flag, the picture of the Queen, the Governor General and our fearless leader Stephen Harper. I was astonished by my new found comfort level. This was the second best support situation for me and it was time to get to work.

I met Katrina my case agent and we went through all the forms I needed to fill out and my options. I needed obligatory photos, a police report, 4 references and 7 documents and forms that had to be filled out. My options were as follows:

1. A new passport that would take 15 business days to process. $150
2. An emergency one year passport that would take 5 days, but I would also have to purchase a regular passport in the process. Wait time 15 days (yes you read that right). You can not get a emergency passport with out purchasing a regular passport. $290. I just stared at her glassy eyed.
3. An emergency travel document that will get me home. Wait time 5 business days. $81

I am not the brightest light sometimes but as all I want to do is head back to Canada I chose option 3. (Round of applause please). Once home I can get a new passport through the regular process, but since my birth cert. was stolen as well (I have no idea why it was with my passport) I will need to do that first. Fun times. I took everything back to the hotel, went out and had 3 different photos taken from three different places to make sure at least one was OK. I went for a walk and found the police station then went back and started filling out the forms. Easy peasy. I was actually excited about trying to get the police report and what mayhem I would have to go through. Lemonade as they say and I would not disappointed.

I got up early on Thursday morning but even being as organized as I could be I still had a hard pit in my stomach and was stressing over what I had to do. I downed a few coffee and while walking to the Police station I said to myself "Ken, just let the emotions run their course and stop fighting them". I am pretty sure I said it out loud because I got some very strange looks from people passing me on the street. Nothing like seeing a crazy gringo on your way to work. Your welcome my Bolivian friends, glad I could make your day

The Police station was in chaos. There were so many locals in there it dawned on me that Carnival had just finished, the police were going to be busy. From my scouting the day before I knew where to go, so up the stairs I went, confident and cocky. I should have know better. The line up to get my police report document, not the actually written report was about 10 deep. I despise lining up for anything but whats a guy to do. I notice the sign saying it was going to cost 10Bolivianos for the report, I only had a 20. Ten minutes and its my turn but wait, the person behind me decides she wants to go in front of the gringo and just pushed me aside, all 4 foot 11 of her. I could have taken her down but thought wiser. I get my chance, tell the guy I need a report and hand him the 20. He stares at me and when I ask for my change he says, Gringos dont get change. I can not make that shit up. Ok, then. I have my paperwork, turn to leave and notice everyone in the room smiling knowingly. I just giggled and went on my way. Robbed at a police station while filing a police report. You just can not make that shit up.

Next up is the actual report room. Down the stairs I go and find the scariest darkest and dankest room in the place. I now figure that they are going to close the door when I get in and waterboard me or hook me up to some type of electrical device attached to sensitive parts of my body asking for some type of secret codes. A bit of sweat actually ran down my back.  There were two people sitting at desks and processing us fairly quickly. I was in line 15 minutes then sat down beside a woman who had obviously been doing this job way to long. I gave her the details she wanted and in a from letter on her computer she just swapped my information with the person previous to me, put my report into the printer, stamped it, signed it and said caio. No Hugs goodbye or anything. I ran across the street, made a few photo copies, returned to give them one. I had my report and did not want them to change thier mind so I got out of there without looking back.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Three Days Of Carnival In Sucre

Do you want to get bombarded by water balloon, blasted by super soakers, have pails of water dumbed on you from over head balconies, get sprayed relentlessly with some type of spray foam, watch small rowdy random groups of people march in the street banging drums, blasting horns and getting wasted on Liche de Tigre. Well Sucre during Carnival is the place for you.

Sucre was one of the towns I was looking forward to visiting for a long time. I heard great things about it from so may travellers I was pretty excited all things considered. However, on the list of great colonial towns in Latin America it was a bit of a lunch bag let down. After a gut check in the chaos that was the La Paz bus terminal, a sleepless 14 hour overnight bus ride to Sucre, a hostel room that was confirmed then no available and now the Sucre let down, my mettle was now being severely tested. Time for a very cold beer.

Sucre does have great colonial buildings, outstanding churches and squares and an archway into the main square which reminded me of Antigua Guatemala. However this was once the capital of Bolivia so it has smog belching buses, electrical wires that are nested on every home and utility pole, broken sidewalks, rutted streets and more cars then are absolutely necessary. I was just getting into hating the place when I was pelted with my first water balloon. Gringo, welcome to carnival yelled a kid with a huge grin and no more that 15 years old. It was then I took a few minutes and notices the real chaos that I was surrounded by.

On every corner possible there were people selling bags of water balloons. Shops selling the biggest super soakers I have ever seen and beer, lots and lots of beer. I was just wandering getting into the mood when I got blasted by a stream of water and no sooner did I turn around to see a shop owner laughing I was then drenched from above by a bucket of water. Oh man this is just stupid fun. Have you ever gotten hit in the back of the head by a water balloon tossed with great velocity, it freaking hurts..well for about a nano second.

This is what I endured for three days. Everyone was into it .I saw a young kid no more than 5 get blasted point blank in the face and she looked stunned for a second and then just giggled. The various roving bands of people marching in the streets likes packs of wolves was cool but they all played the same freaking song over and over. I did notice that some of the lads were pretty smashed, I mean fall down and cant get up drunk and it was still early afternoon. I could not reason why until I found it. Leche de tigre, Tigers milk. This is some type of bitter milky native moonshine sold in open litre bottles for about a buck. I needed to see what the fuss was all about. Well I am no rookie when it comes to having a drink, but holy mother of god. I had maybe 6 ounces and I could actually feel myself loosing the ability to speak. I gave the bottle to the closest drunk guy, focused and went  home to bed. It was about 7 and I slept right through the night.

As I said, this went on for the three days I was there and by the third day it was getting kind of old. The locals were just having the time of their lives. I visited the crazy market when I got heaps of food for about $2, a few churches just to escape the water barrage, might have even prayed to have it stop, escaped the central core and found some great cobblestone side streets and enjoyed it the best I could all things considered. I will not lie and say I was pretty happy when it was time to leave. I had a bus ticket to La Paz and was anxious to get my shit together and plan my trip back to Canada.

One small passage about the Sucre Bus station and the overnight bus ride back to La Paz. The Sucre terminal is smallish but don't let that fool you, they have orderly chaos down to a science. I dropped my bag off at the company office and went for the standard friend chicken and fries dinner. I had a few hours. My bus left at 7 30 from aisle 9. I double and triple checked that this was the case. I was assured go to aisle 9 at 7 15. Well there were buses from 5 different companies leaving every 15 minutes to La Paz. The chaos and the gringo fear was all around me and made for great television.

Different bus companies were leaving from different departure aisles and my company Copacabana was leaving from 9. All was cool. The I noticed the long rope with the gaff hook hanging over the second floor. They were taking bags from the second floor and lowering them to be loaded one floor below. It worked and was a bit mesmerizing to say the least. Well the 7 15 buses left and the 7 30s pull in. You guessed it, Copacabana pulled into both number 9 and 10. Whoo hoo, this was going to be excellent. There were a couple German girls on the verge of tears, a Norwegian couple that looked an me, shrugged and said well this should be interesting. I like travel veterans.

Being a bit confused but assured I was set to leave from row 9, I got on the bus to find my seat 1A occupied. A brief and friendly talk with the native had me realize that this bus was Semi Cama, I was on the Cama bus leaving from number 10. Hell of course, all the reassurances I received from the company office would mean nothing and I should have know that. What is a guy to do. The Norwegians who were in the same predicament that I was, and I figured lets just watch for our bags to come over the top and what ever bus they  go on, that is the bus we would go on. It was pretty fun to say the least. Finally my crappy Chinese red and black not going to last a month rucksack come over the top and where did it go. On bus number 10 of course. In I went and settled into my seat. Next stop Lap Paz, 7 am.

Once on board I was informed that there was no heat and that there were two broken windows on the bus. I was given a blanket to keep warm. Remembering we are at 11 000 to 12 000 ft it was going to be cold. I had my fleece and jacket pulled up tight, the blanket over me. There was an older lady sitting next to me with her kid of about 5 on her lap. She offered me a drink of something hot and sweet from her thermous and I happily took it.

After all we were all in this together.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Saying Good Bye To An Old Friend

I have had my Rucksack for over 20 years and we have traveled well together. Japan, Egypt, Jordan, Europe and now Central and South America. It was old, worn and packed well. We have travelled many miles and he was always a comforting and familiar site on any airport luggage turn style. Today I had to say good bye to Big Blue.

I have a small lock that I use to lock up the main zippers on my rucksack when ever I put it on a plane or bus. I know if someone really wanted to they could get in, but its just one of the small deterrents that seems to work. I have 3 keys for the lock and have on in my day pack put the other two in the small pack attached to Big Blue. Well the perfect storm of laziness had me put all three keys in the day pack and of course that day pack is now MIA. I had to rip open my beloved rucksack to get to my extra credit and bank cards, well along with all my clothing. It was fast as I plunged my MEC camping knife into the soft canvas and ripped it open like a kid on Christmas. I then sadly and pathetically laid it out on the floor. With no camera there was no way to capture the moment but like an old friend I said good bye. Then with pains in my gut I replaced it with a cheap Chinese knock off that if I am lucky will last the 3 weeks I have left on my journey. I am not optimistic. MEC, you have done me proud!

We got into Sucre early and the first thing I needed was an Internet cafe and telephone calling centre. I could get to my hostel at any time. I called my bank and cancelled my bank card and credit card easy enough. There were no attempts at using either. I then called the Canadian Embassy to report my stolen passport and to arrange a meeting to get it sorted out. Lucky me, this was a Friday and the beginning of Carnival Week, the Embassy was closed until Wednesday. Oh man I needed a beer. I went to the police station to file a report that I was going to need. You guessed it, they could not do anything until 8 am on Wednesday morning. How could this get better.

Well it does. I arrived at my hostel the had confirmed my room just the day before to find that sorry, your room is under construction, we only have dorms. Freaking Liars! Nope not good enough. So they called around and found me another hostel which was a bit of a dump but at this moment it was better then being on the street. My Aussie friends were at another hostel and, well were stressed out of their minds. I was stressed and pissed off but as I said, I have been through this before and I know the drill....but the black cloud of stress hangs over you no matter how cool you think you are.

Austrailia 1989. I had just finished a long bus ride and a bit of hitch hiking from Sydney to Canberra. It was Jan 26th weekend, the Australian National holiday and I thought that would be a cool spot to hang out. Now I had just flow across the Pacific to meet a girl from NF that I was dating and that was going to be in Australia for a year. She wanted me to come visit and we were going to travel around the country together. Long of it was, I got there and she dumped me the day I got there. BOOM,  welcome to Bondi Beach Ken
So I pick myself up, dust myself off and figure I am going to see this country anyways, and off I went. Now back to our story. I arrive in Canberra near dusk and I am tired, exhausted really. The hostel I was staying at was a bit out of town so I continue along my way, tired and oblivious. About 15 minutes into my walk alone this what is now a very desolate road a few very large lads come out from behind some bushes and with big friendly smiles say..Mate, we are going to be taking all your things. It was the most polite robbery imaginable. Confused I remember saying, take them where, to the hostel for me. Nope we are taking your things and that's the end of the story. These were not your nervous kids, but pretty large and very capable adult males. I ask, can I have my passport, and of course that was a big NO. So off they went with my rucksack and I was standing on the side of the road in the middle of nowhere. Now this of course was before cell phones and the Internet and yes you could survive in a wireless world just fine. It took time and with the help of a great local family the leaned of my situation I got everything sorted out and used their house as my mailing centre for my new credit cards. I ended up staying with them for two weeks and it turned out to be the best part of my trip.

If I can got all the way to Austrailia, get dumped and then robbed within a week of each other, well I could certainly survive my issues in Bolivia. Well as I said, I knew the drill based on experience and there was nothing I could do until Wednesday morning and I would be back in La Paz. With the constant help and support of someone you will learn about in the near future I was kept calm and reassured over the three days in Sucre and back in La Paz. Thank you Bama, it will never be forgotten

Ah Man, Wheres My Bag

One of the great thing about long term travel is that you get to share all the great experiences and adventures with everyone. However you also have to be honest with yourself and share the shitty things that happen as well. Today is all about one of those FUCK ME experiences.

Sitting in the La Paz bus terminal with a couple of Aussie travel friends we talked about how insane and crazy the bus station seemed to be. Serious sensory overload. We remembered it was Carnival weekend so it made sense. Usually in a situation like this, my spidey senses go into over drive and my experience tells me to stay alert. However after being on the road so long I had noticed I started getting a bit lazy and even joked about it with people along the way. Many people said the same thing, that they had picked up bad habits. Well my bad habits cost me.

Sitting in said terminal there was a huge commotion about 20 feet away, a couple guys screaming and shouting at each other real good. Good enough for us to look towards them and away from our packs for about 30 seconds tops. I should have noticed something was odd because the place was filled with tourist and transit police and they did nothing to stop these guys. Then as quick as it started they stopped and went their separate ways. A cold chill Deja Vu chill went down my spine. Many years ago while travelling Europe, I was sitting in a park near the Rome train station with my brother and and old friend Kent Chapman. We were drinking wine and killing time waiting for our train. Suddenly a guy appeared to our right and started talking to me. Then another guy started talking to Kent and Kevin, keeping out heads looking to the right. I suddenly had that feeling and looked back to see a guy walking away with Kevin's day pack. A quick yell and he dropped it and ran away. Now I had that same sick feeling again.

I turned my head and you guessed it, my day pack was gone, as were the packs of my buddies. You just get that sick feeling in you gut. First thought, ah man I made the freaking rookie mistake and had my passport in my day pack. What a pain in the ass that is going to be. We asked the cops if they say anyone or anything, nada and of course nobody in the entire train station saw anything. After a while our anger and angst turned to black humour as we literally applauded the pros who ripped us off. It was a well executed plan and worked to perfection, even on road veterans like us.

What was lost. Passport, Laptop, camera that I loved and my ipod, all replaceable. There are some pictures not backed up but lost pictures do not take away from the experience. I think I was more pissed off that they took the book I was reading, Moby Dick. I mean its not an easy read and I was plugging my way through it but now Ishmael will have to wait.

Well nothing we could do but get on the bus and head to Sucre for carnival, it was 8 00 pm and I could make my phone calls in the morning. Man I was more pissed of at being lazy and dumb then losing my stuff. This was still going to be a long over night bus ride.

Bolivian Amazon - Piranah Fishing

I woke up today and my legs and feet were a disaster. I scratched all night long and as I went to breakfast discovered that everyone else did as well. Freaking Jungle, who would have thought there were bugs that bite. All I have for relief is sun screen and it did help in the short term, but not good enough.

Well today is our last day before we head back to Rurrembarque but there was one last little adventure. We were going fishing for blue piranah. Sure, these little buggers could take off a finger but they are not the nasty large Red Belly Boys that can strip a human in about 5 minutes. Plus, this was the wet season and there was plenty of food to be had. To prove it, when we got to the fishing hole Victor our guide jumped in for a swim and with a big grin asked if anyone else wanted to swim with Piranah. Nobody moved.

We hung out in a calm shallow reedy inlet trying out luck and about 15 metres away in the river 3 Pink Dolphins just swam and did thier thing. A pretty good way to spend a couple of hours. We were not using fishing rods as you would think. We had fishing line wrapped around a piece of wood and tossed the line over board. The water might have been 5 feet deep. Well with a bit of excitement Victor of course brought in the first and only piranah and I must say it was pretty exciting and intimidating. He was no bigger then the palm of your hand but he had those teeth and was not happy about being on board, so over he went to get bigger and angrier.

Our Amazon trip was coming to and end. We went back to camp, said good bye to the caimen, packed up and took a nice leisurely 90 minute boat ride through the jungle back to the launch point. It was sunny and warm and a great way to unwind, not that there was any stress in the last 4 days. Now all that was left was the 3 hour nasty bus ride back to Rerrembarque but this time our driver decided he was an Indy racer. Remember, this is just a dirt track with ruts, bumps and shit all over the road. Freaking driver made it back in just under 2 hours.

Now the horror of horrors. We get out of the van at the Tour shop and are greeted by a worker with a big smile, did you have a good time, here have a coke! NO NO NO. I can not escape the devils liquid and when I said no thanks the girl offering and she just stood there kind of dumbfounded.

I had what I thought was a 6 00 flight back to La Paz but in my stupidity I had booked it for the next day. I changed it to a 2 00 flight and now found myself with a free night in Rerrembarque. Not much to do so off to Luna Cafe for some post jungle beers and the farmacy for anti itch cream...that just sounds weird.

Bolivian Amazon - Anaconda Hunt

Some mornings you wake up, grab a big coffee and newspaper and head for the sofa. Other mornings you get up and crawl through an Amazon swamp and hunt for Anacondas.
At times say "Ken, how the crap do you keep getting yourself in these situation"? Standing knee deep in water that is home to Anacondas was one of those times.

Just as we began the sky's opened up adding a little more misery to the day. There were quite a few groups together today and as we progressed more and more people lost their nerve and returned to base.

We trekked through the marshland and at places the water was up to my thighs, filling my gum boots. We crossed into what they called a tree oasis where most of the bad boys would be found. We were warned that there was a good chance they were to high in the trees because it was the rainy season. Sure enough and well thankfully the only thing we found was a big old nasty looking toad.
Then just to get us going Victor started his tourist scary stories about water vipers and yellow tree snakes. With the knowing grin he just waited to see if anyone would bite. Sure enough there were a few "really" "are they dangerous' "do you have anti venom", to which we just turned and walked out of the oasis. Funniest guide I have so far.

Well the fun of the morning deserved an ice cold beer at 10 am. We still had much to see and do including swimming with the Pink River dolphins..well I will take the photos.

These are not your jumping playful sideshow bob dolphins that you think of. These are kinds of creepy. They break the surface and dive and very seldom jump. The water as I said is ink black so jumping in is a heart attack waiting to happen.

When in the water the dolphins will bump into you from below, nip at your feet then from out of nowhere appear right beside you. It is not for the faint of heart. Some folks dangled their feet over boards and the pink mammals from hell would come up and nip their feet. How is that fun? They were fun to watch and more fun trying to photograph. I have learned that sometimes it is better to put the damn camera away and enjoy the experience.

It was a good day and time to kick back with yet another cold beer and the jungle bar. However not paying attention to my surroundings I kicked off my pants and boots and put on shorts and sandals. That was a dinner bell for the mosquito's and ants. The bad thing, besides being eaten alive is that you do not feel the little buggers. What you do notice is about an hour later a series of constellations all over your legs and particularly the feet. Holy itchy!

I swear I could hear these Bolivian jungle bugs giggling while they slurped up the deet that I had lathered on my legs, arms and face. One adventurous mosquito landed on my shoulder and said Deet¨really, you gringos are hilarious.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Bolivian Amazon - Camp and Caymans

The morning brought what can only be described as a 3 hour dirty road bump fest that got significantly worse the closer we got to our launch area, the deep jungle town of Santa Rosa.

We stopped along the way at various outposts to use the bathroom and buy some travel snacks. You will be amazed at how often you need to go pee when your bowels aer being shaken and tossed for hours at a time. The girls used the banos, the lads used the natural bathroom that was all around us.

Then came the rain. I always put allot of faith in my tour drivers however this van had no wipers and his wife who was along for the ride was wiping the inside of the windscreen to remove the fog. I just stared out the back and closed my eyes.

The rain was over as quick as it started. We stopped to look at a tree sloth and made Santa Rosa for lunch. A great pasta soup, sliced chicken and veggies..lots of veggies. After months of red meat and french fries my body actually said thank you Ken, you bastard. What were you thinking in Chile and Argentina.
The cost of the tour was 900 Bolivians, about $120. It included 3 days, 2 nights accommodation, 6 crazy good meals, out guide Victor, the 4x4 Disney ride, and much much more. I am so happy to be back in the lands of good value

The River launch was from Santa Rosa. There were various outfits and groups all launching from the same place. It was quite a beautiful spot really.
We loaded our long low riding river boat with supplies and set off. It was suddenly sunny and jungle hot. This being the wet season the river systems and estuaries were running high. There was lots of green, flowers of every colour were in bloom and there were birds screeching everywhere.
We set off and right away say turtles of various sizes sunning themselves, Parrots of red, blue, yellow and green, the very odd looking Bird of Paradise, Black Vultures and various eagles and hawks.
About half way into our cruise to came we came across a pink river dolphin and chased it for a while. They are odd looking creatures. Big heads, short stubby bodies and long beak like mouths. One of the highlights is tomorrow you can jump into the ink black water and swim with them. I will take a pass. This is not your all inclusive resort dolphin swim.

We landed at camp Indigenous and were immediately told to look out for the Cayman by the dock. Sure enough there he was in his glory. Welcome to the jungle redux. He just chilled and hung around the camp, he had been there for years. People were swimming no more that 20 feet from him and he just looked bored. However, those scary eyes always knew where you were.

We got settled in, watched the cayman for a while then hit the hammocks. I fell asleep right away. Victor woke us up and we launched for a 5 minute ride up river to a river outpost. A hut that served ice cold beer. Good call Victor. We returned for a great dinner, then got ready for the night river cruise.

Darkness brought the scary sounds of the Amazon night creatures. We set off looking for the evil red orange eyes of cayman. When you flash you light on the banks of the river and see those devil eyes you know who is in charge, and its not us humans.
There were fireflies everywhere, glowing eyes peering at us from the bushes 10 feet away and the odd "what the hell was that' sound.

We turned off all the lights and just anchored in the river for a while. The starts just blazed in the sky. I did my looking for satellites thing and in the distance there was heat lighting that added to it all. We sat for about half an hour until a huge splash broke the silence. It was time to head back, but Victor smiled and said, everyone relax but I just broke the cord to start the motor. Well we are surrounded by cayman in the middle of the night, the mosquito's have just honed in on us and now we were just drifting. I just laid back and looked at the sky. A few others, well not so much. I was pretty sure I heard a soft whimper or two.

Well I did not find out until we got back but Victor needed help. One of the Aussies sitting in the back of the boat was eager and it was not until he was actually leaning over the tanks of gas did he realize he had a smoke in his mouth. Victors shoelace and the smokeless Aussies help got the engine running and we were off, back to the safety of camp. One last hurdle, climbing the dock at night with they cayman and his fire red eyes watching us.

Mosquito bite count is up to about 500. They laugh at deet!

Bolivian Amazon - Rurrembarque

Today was all about getting to the jungle town of Rerrembarque which is a 45 minute flight from La Paz. Nobody takes the 10 hour bus ride because it is way to dangerous. Buses going off the cliff dangerous monthly dangerous. Welcome to the Jungle!

The flight was creepy to say the least so I could not even in imagine the death bus. Our twin prop death trap held 22 people and looked like it had seen better days. I had seat 1A right up front which gave me a birds eye view of a very cramped cockpit. there was no door, so it was front row frightening the the entire way.

The last time I was actually scared on a flight was the return flight from Iceland with my sister Kelly about 2.5 years ago. Everything was fine until we crossed over Greenland where the turbulence was, well lets put it this way. Kelly looked over at me and said to you see how much the wings are moving up and down. They were. With the blood gone from her face, eyes wide as dinner plates and in a very feeble yet brave voice said "are you scared". Then she just looked out the window. Good thing because she would have certainly seen the fear in my eyes, that's for sure. Well Amazonias Turbo prop flight A64 gave the experience a run for the gold.
Take off from La Paz was more an up, down, left right experience. The boys in the cockpit were randomly hitting switches and pushing buttons. I just closed my eyes.
Well we are up and all is good. The views at 20,000 feet of the snow capped mountains are intensely close. Then we enter the clouds. Out my little window I see nothing. Then I made the mistake of looking out the cockpit and they could see nothing. Visibility was maybe 1 foot. One pilot was actually reading a magazine. I just closed my eyes!

Forty five minutes later the soothing sounds of Fela Kuti had me safely on the ground. The paved runway was new, about 2 years old. Before that it a
was landing on a grass runway.
Surrounded by Amazon jungle, isolated by high snow capped mountains and literally in the middle of nowhere this place was a drug smugglers wet dream. Many people must have died here during the dark times in Bolivian history.

I noticed a beat up old bus off to the side of the runway. Our chariot to town. The ride in was easy enough, about 10 minutes. Rurrembarque is a jungle town and the tourists only started arriving about 6 years ago. The place has suddenly come to life as one of the locals told me, but the town was growing and people do not know how to handle it. The only cars or trucks were the tour operators vehicles. Everyone else drove scooters and small 250 cc motorcycles. I found my hotel and confirmed my tour and went for a little stroll.

A stop at the river and there were guys unloading bananas everywhere! It was heaven for me. Piles of fresh picked bananas being transported to market and for export. This is what you don't see when you are shopping at the local grocers.

** A shout out to my aunt Joan. She knew my obsession with bananas and years ago she gave me a huge bunch for Christmas. RIP Aunt Joan, you are missed.

I took some photos, had a few ice cold Pacena at Cafe Luna over looking the main street and headed for the hotel. Suddenly I hit the clothing lottery. Cotton Socks for sale at .75 a pair. I have been suffering since Peru with polyester socks that are the only thing available anywhere. Anyone who knows can figure out that polyester is not a foots best friend, nor his shoes. I did find cotton socks in El Chalten Chile for $25 a pair to which I responded out loud, louder than I possibly should have "are you shitting me". Well I felt these new comforts, hugged them for longer than I should have and left with enough socks to last me until I am 90.

Happy Feet Are Happy Adventures.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

La Paz - Just A Little Bit Of Chaos

Who ever named La Paz (The Peace) they must have been snickering and giggling the whole time. Taking a taxi into town at night the town was beautiful. The entire valley lit up with a full moon giving the place a mystical serene feel. Then the sun came up!

This town of 1.2 million is crammed into the beautiful valley of the night before. There is no place to expand but up the steep mountain sides. The houses look like they could all cascade down upon each other then the city at any moment.

The morning also brought the beauty of the Andean Culture back into my world. Indians and peasant all over the streets with make shift stalls selling anything you could want.

The neighbourhood I am in is cobblestone streets surrounded by clogged avenues of smoke belching buses, honking horns and utter bedlam. Taxi or cars absolutely will not stop if you cross in front of them. It is Frogger for the insane!

It is full of shops, travel agencies, restaurants and gringos. The street food is so incredibly delicious and cheap and the beer is ice cold.

This area that also has some great old churches and squares there is not much to hold me here. This is not a town to find a pub, get a bunch into you and then try to find your way home.

I am at the Cruz del los Andes hotel and the  hotel breakfasts, that are included in the 15 dollar a night price include eggs, cereal, juice, toast and fruit..served with a big old "buenas dia" smile.

I booked a Death Road Bike tour for yesterday but woke up and it was raining. We got into the van and drove to the launch place as we had to cross over a mountain range and were told the weather was different there. Well not so much. Climbing the mountain the rain turned to snow and and the road became its own scary road.  We arrived at the launch point and us riders all decided nope, we are not going down a road that is dangerous in the rain! Not going to happen! Our guide looked confused but we went back and re booked the bike trip for the 16th.

I am heading into the Bolivian Amazon tomorrow. Lions and Tigers and Bears!!

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Eating Skittles In La Paz

Well this was a fairly easy travel day. Salta Argentina to La Paz Bolivia. I flew with the Bolivian airlines AeroSur and they were a standard airline and decent enough. The flight from Salta to Santa Cruz Bolivia was 90 minutes then an hour stop over and 45 minutes to La Paz.

They are a small airline with only 16 planes in their fleet. What AeroSur had going for it was some of the best designed artwork on their fleet of jets. Nice to see creativity alive in the corporate world. Find some FB pictures Here and some Corporate photos Here . I flew Yacare the croc. Something so simple as a well thought out design concept goes such a long way to remembering the airline and brings a little levity to the experience. Big thumbs up to AeroSur.

In La Paz and I had a sudden craving for skittles. When it seems I have these cravings I always happen to find them. I don't know what it is, maybe because they are sweet, or colorful, but really its because when I get my hands on them they end up all over the places and I giggle like a kid, diving on the floor after them. Here's to you skittles for making my day after a long journey.

Now I am just chilling in La Paz. Getting off the plane I was hit in face with a burst of altitude. Some light headedness, a bit dizzy and foggy. I picked up my pack, slowly and walked to get a cab very slowly. Altitude is such a funny thing and you do not realize how quickly it can affect you. It just takes time to adjust.

The airport sits above the city and the city is in a long low valley. As it was night the drive into the city was incredible. The lights of the city were a perfect back drop to the full moon.. My hotel is great, so its time to get a well deserved good nights sleep. The La Paz walkabout awaits me in the morning.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Caio Caio Argentina

Ah Argentina

You are big, your brash, your beautiful and you dam well know it! Home of great steaks, better wine and Quilmes beer you lived up to your arrogant reputation with room to spare around that big old head of yours. Just one work of advice my friend, lay off the smokes. Holy crap you people smoke to allot and you smoke everywhere. I am pretty sure you smoke while you are having a smoke.

From Ushuaia in the south to Salto in the North you were as diverse as you are huge. You are 8th largest country in the world and that is no small feat. Unfortunately you had one huge strike against you but it was not your fault. You followed my journey into Antarctica and that high lasted me a long time at your expense. I think you knew that because you tried your best to keep me here by blocking the road to Bolivia. What was up with that anyways dude? I know you wanted to show me more but it was time for me to leave.

You allowed me to be over 11 000 km from home and feel safe at all times. You are crazed about Tango, Eva Peron, football and thinking you are European. Like your pal Chile you kicked that crap out of my budget but what ever eh, when are we going to see each other again? I did not get to see the Pampas home of Pompero Firpo. Maybe this was a good thing because I am sure I would have giggled like a child every time I said Pampas and Pompero Firpo. Your Gouchos would not have been pissed, and nobody likes a pissed Goucho.

A few Highlights Argentina. You did good my friend

- Drinking wine in Mendoza
- Calving on Perito Glacier near El Calefate
- The Salt Flats near Salta
- A brilliant steak in Bariloche
- Two bus rides of over 20 hours and one that was near 30. Death occurs at 26 hours.
- A zoo that almost made me cry in public
- Being Pespi and soda free for 38 days now
- The best empanadas in Latin America
- The heat that put San Pedro De Atacama in Chile to shame
- Wandering a bit drunk in BA after watching football all day
- Iguazu Falls
- The Jesuit Ruins at San Ignacio
- The feeling that I was a character in  Nevil Shutes On The Beach while in Posadas
- The house dogs at the Hostel in Bariloche
- The Flecha Bus ride from San Ignacio to Salta where they served me wine and whiskey
- Recoleta Cemetary
- Leaving Ushuaia for Antarctica
- The utter chaos of the bus station in El Calefate after the fire in Torres Del Paynes
- A huge hairy tarantula unexpectedly walking across my foot and me screaming like a 14 years old girl.
- Drinking Mate with the hostel owners in El Calefate
- The fastest and scariest cab ride ever in Bariloche, scarier than Cairo if that is possible
- Watching the Superbowl in Spanish

Well Argentina you were pretty special but more often aloof. I could not really nail you down but I think that is how you like it isn't it? Always keep us guessing. Your South American with a European flair, confident of your success and I will leave yearning for more. Finally be nice to your neighbour Uruguay. They are small and mean you no harm. Remember, the true test of a man's character is how he treats the ones who can cause him no harm.

Ciao Ciao Argentina. The mysterious Bolivia awaits.

Into Bolivia - The First Attempt

I was pretty excited to be leaving Argentina. I have been here for over 5 weeks with a side trip to Uruguay but I was ready for the change. Up next the very mysterious Bolivia. A country I could never have imagined getting to. I remember watching the old movie Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid with Newman and Redford. At the end of the movie they decide they are going to go to Bolivia to escape the Law in America. I can still remember thinking back then, "Bolivia, wow these guys are really nuts. It just sounded so foreign and mysterious.

I purchased my bus ticket on Flecha Bus. I just like saying Flecha Bus because it reminds me of my grade 7 teacher Joe Fletcher, Fletch. Coolest teacher possible. I have had some seriously bad teachers over the
years so Joe Fletcher gets a shout out! Anyways just a random memory thanks to Fletch Bus

A 7:15 departure means up at 6:00, a quick coffee which at Hostel Central is decent. A 20 minute walk to the Bus station gave me time for another coffee and then right on time the bus pulled in and we were ready to go. Bolivia and all its historical mysteries were now within my grasp.

The 2 hours to JuJuy was quick and easy however pulling into JuJuy I did notice the Penitentiary right in the middle of town. Huge guard towers with fully rigged out officers, open court yards when prisoners were in view some talking to other guards. I was going to sneak a photo but just at that moment a con from maybe 30 feet away looked at the bus and he was pretty freaking menacing. The camera quietly found its way back into my pack. This place was right in a residential hood so I suspect housing prices were very affordable if anyone is looking for a vacation property.

We set of from JuJuy and Bolivia was a mere 5 hours away, or so I thought. About 20 minutes outside of JuJuy we stopped. I did not think nothing of it
because the buses get stopped often and at random times by the police. Sometimes they just wave you through and other times they get on the bus and ask for your passport. It was routine, not scary and well just time consuming really. I found out it is not so much for drugs but human trafficing is a huge problem
here. Anyways we sat there for a bit, then a bit turned into an hour, then two.  The bus lurched and moved snapping me out of my daydream but only moved to the side of the road. This was not good!

I got off the bus stretching my legs and getting some feeling back into my but and it was then that I noticed the traffic. My fears were confirmed, there was trouble up ahead. The driver was frantically talking into his cell. Yup this was not good at all. He hung up, smiled at me and told me that there was a landslide about 6 km ahead. We were going to wait for some time to see if we could get through but that was unlikely. Well some time turned into 6 hours and at 4 pm we were finally told that it was impossible to get through. The slide was 4 metres thick and would take 2 days to clean up. I had been through this in Guatemala and know that cleanup is not done North American style with huge bulldozers and tractors. This was a man and shovel  operation.

Argentina was not letting me out of its grasp. I was suffering with Phil and Eva, a young couple from Australia and there was a collective "ah shit" then "what are you going to do". It was back to Salta and 14 hours later there we were, right back were we started, in Salta.

We walked to the 9th of June square, found a restaurant with an outside terrace. I was freaking hungry so I chowed down on a lomo, cheese, egg and ham sandwich with fries and a couple of well deserved litres of Quilmes and all was right in the world again. There are worse things then being trapped in in Salta Argentina on a warm night drinking cool beer.

Well Bolivia I will not be denied!

Today, Tuesday the 7th, I woke up and said to myself, "self you are not going to wait two days and hope the roads are clear". My self responded 'Ken, you are right, now go book a flight and the costs be damned"

Making that decsion easier was the fact it rained last night, adding to the possibility of more mud slides. I checked various other routes into Bolivia including going back  to San Pedro De Atacama Chile but a flight to Lap Paz was the only choice really.

Lan and Aero Lineas had offices here but no direct flights to Bolivia so screw you jerkys. Aero Lineas flew to BA then Bolivia but that made no sense. I was directed to Air Sur who I had never heard of.  I found the office and had a ticket booked for the Wednesday the 8th in about 15 minutes.

The sun is out but it is not blazing hot today thanks to the rain. I dont have to be to the airport until 2:00 tomorrow so this is going to be a lazy crazy day in Salta. Maybe I will have another beer.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Salinas Grandes and Purmamarca

The salts flats (Salinas Grandes) of Argentina cover an area of 3200 sq mi and are often compared to Salar de Uyuni in Bolivia. I think you need to take each for what they are.

I did not know what to expect as I have heard all the stories. Well Salinas Grandes did not disappoint and it literally becomes where the earth meets the sky. The rain was  a perfect addition to help with the reflection and adding to the mystery and beauty of the place

 You have to remember that this is a working industry/factory. A single road (not in the picture) leads down to the Salt flats. From there you just park the bus and go wandering. There are artisans that have some interesting salt carvings, a standard restaurant and tienda, but its all about taking your shoes off and going for a walk. This place could be called crazy beautiful with its shimmering top, hexagon patchwork and deep horizon reflections. It is not a huge place, smaller then I expected but large enough to be impressive. Bring on Uyuni.

 From the Salt flats we drove up a series of winding switchback through a valley to a view point at 4000 metres, about 12,000 ft. I had forgotten how quickly altitude can get a hold of you if you move to fast to quickly. I jumped out of the bus and instantly became dizzy enough that I had to sit down for about 5 minutes. Once I pulled it together it was just photo ops then back on the bus. The views were great and if you ever find yourself getting tired of such views, go home.

The final stop of the day was unexpected on my part. The town of Purmamarca. A dry dusty adobe town whose fame is Cerro de Siete Colores, or the hill of seven colours. There was a great market in the square but everyone was selling the same things and looked bored to death. I did find a shop that sold me 20 meat, cheese, egg and potato filled empenadas for about 3 bucks. That with a large OJ was lunch in the square. There were an odd about of young white Rasta's here. I like to think my mind is a pretty open space but I will never understand a white guy trying to be a Rastafarian .

In And Around Salta

Not to be confused with lame ass Salto Uruguay, I like Salta Argentina. I went up the telefonica (cable car) to the local view point of the city *Yawn* but I accidentally delete my pictures from that day. If you want to see the picture in  my posting about the telefonica in Quito and you will get the idea, just think smaller views.

I was told not to expect much from Salta and as is always the case experience things for yourself. Everyone is different and has different ideas of what is good or bad. Listen to what people have to say but make your own educated opinions based on your real experience. Not from what you read on some travel blog or heard from someone.

One of first thing I noticed about being here in North Central Argentina is physical chance in the people. As I move closer to Bolivia the facial features and body shapes are less European like they are in the Central and South and more Incian or Indian. The people are shorter so I fell right at home now.

Salta is at a travellers cross roads. People come here from San Pedro De Atacama Chile, south through here coming from Bolivia and north heading to Bolivia. As much as it is that cross roads town it does not have the feel of a tourist town. It seems more like a working town, my favourite.

There are the standard tree line parks and squares with statures of some famous guy doing something heroic on horseback. What they do have here are some of the most colourful churches I have seen in a long while. They are mixed amongst old dilapidated buildings and new glass office towers.

Now the one thing I notice beside the change in people is that they are also getting poorer. Not dangerous but poor. I noticed more people, usually the kids looking at my camera when I walked by. Good think to notice and its time to get my travel game face on and put that puppy back in my pocket when I am not using it.

The last couple of months through Chile, Antarctica, Argentina and Uruguay have been a breeze. Europe cold not have been easier, but with ease of travel comes sloppy habits. Time to sharpen them up my travel skills. My belly is going to get re-acquainted with my passport and my wallet.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Ruins of San Ignacio Mini

Now we are talking. Cows outside my hostel room eating happily along a dirt road and nobody caring. San Ignacio is a small dusty town in every sense of the word, and it was fantastic. Although a true part of the Gringo Trail most people use this as a day trip from Posada which thier loss.

It is good for one night, two if you need to decompress but it was hot, the mosqitios never quit and then there were the tarantulas. Big hairy nasty mothers that not only lived in the yard of the hostel but would come out for a visit when things got quiet and cooled down. I have stayed at many places but the people here were over the top helpful and nice. I had a spanish lesson from the ower that lasted two hours just because she wanted me to get better.

However nice. this town is about one thing really the Jesuit Ruins of San Ignacio. I know nothing about the Jesuits and what they did here in Northern Argentina and Paraguay. A little research and I found out they are the largest order of priests and brothers in the Catholic church. Crazy.

San Ignacio Mini has been around since the early 1600s. Our friends at Wiki have some decent quick hits about history of the ruins. In 1984 they were declared a UNESCO World Heritage site. I am going to find the UNESCO list and see which ones I have been to.

I have mentioned before that I like wandering around ruins of any kind. As some of you know oh to well that I have this crazy way of letting my mind wander in places like that and then just let it go where ever it wants. I think of the people who worked and lived here, the music, the food, the celebrations..the sick catholic priests and all the native alterboys. "he foreign boy this is what we do in Europe, just don't tell anyone especially the Chief"

The brickwork was impressive and the archways and door frame contained some stunning artwork. I think think that this was jungle, absolute no doubt about it jungle 400 years ago and they boy showed up here and just set up shop. Pretty impressive stuff when you read more about it.

At 8:30 pm there was what was called a light show extravaganza. Well sure I will give it a go (already judging at how lame it was going to be). Well that teaches me for being a miserable No Pepsi for 33 days slug.

They produce a story of the history of the Ruins using holograms with in parts of the forests, along the walls, in the middle of the court yard and it was pretty freaking special. I did learn that during one fo the final raids that the Portugese put on  San Ignacio they finally said Basta! They organized an army from within the community and out side tribe and kicked the Portugese back across the border to Brazil. This was the first account of an organize army in the Americas, well so the big head talking from the middle of the courtyard told me. Seriously it was totally the Wizard of Oz floating big head.  It made babies cry.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Iguazu Falls

Upon seeing Iguazu, the United States' First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt reportedly exclaimed "Poor Niagara! Screw you Eleanor!
Iguazu Falls lies on the border of Argentina and Brazil and it is a major stop on the Gringo Trail. There are lots of arguments about which side looks better. I found the Argentine side was pretty spectacular.
The park itself is layed out really well and for being the main and if not only reason to come to Puerto Iguazu it is not over the top tacky touristy. Which it could so easily be.

Now for the one and thing that is starting to stick in my spleen. Gringo pricing. You know it, you love it but you get tired of it. Today it is brought to you by Iguazu National Park. Entrance to the park, Argentinians 40 Pesos, Gringos $100 peso. The sign does not actually say Gringo but I may as well. So you smile, try and make a little joke that you are Argentinian and pay your entrance fee.

I do not know the specifics of the main falls, the Devils Hole but Wiki has some great information on the park. There are also some pretty spectacular photos.

How do you get there, funny you should ask. Upon arrival and paying your Freaking Gringo Fee, you enter a nicely laid out staging area. A few shops and stores nothing crazy. You then walk to the train, yes sir you take a train. It is like any carnival train but it holds about 200 people. You jump on board and a 15 to 20 minutes ride through some lush parkland you get to the end of the line and The Devils Hole..bum bum bummm

Spectacular enough and standing in the mist to ward off the blazing sun I was surrounded by so many people saying..ohhh its just like Niagara. No its not you bone heads! Its nothing like Niagara. Well there is water flowing over a rocky cliff but that just about where the comparisons end.

There were great walking trails that led to other vantage points with to many photo ops. I have learned to try and keep it to a minimum now.  I have begun to  experimented with removing the colour and changing the layout from some of my photos. I really like the results. One day I will blow a few up and put them in the bedroom.

To change it up there was a nice wooded trail that led to a small falls and a swimming hole. To get there you are told that there are snakes that may appear on the trail. Nothing is more reassuring then a sign showing that they are friendly and smiling.
Yes, for the second time on this trip a large snake owned my ass. It crossed in front of me maybe 5 metres away. Far enough that I was not in any danger but close enough that turning around and running away like a 10 year old girl was an option.
Iguazu has recharged me for the final leg of my journey.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

The Posadas Adventure

Unlike the great Irvin Allan adventure flick Posadas is not turned upside down but everyone is gone, including the captain. Yes another subtle reminder that I am in the North and its the off season. Just look at the crowds on the boardwalk.  And its hot, I mean Africa hot. Four litres of water a day hot.

I was going to go to the Jesuit Ruins at San Ignacio but my timing is off. I will head to Iguazu for a couple days and stop at San Ignacio on the way back. Both places are going to be cool.

After battling the crowds along the boardwalk I was hungry. Now the next challenge in this day is how do I find a spot to sit in any of the cafes along the strip. I mean I was famished. As anyone who knows me can tell you the one thing I rarely will do is wait in a line at a restaurant. I freaking hate it. Well I was not having none of that today, someone was giving up their seat to the tourist. Who by the way was the only tourist in town.

As I walked past each cafe there were many "what the hell is he doing here" looks from the locals. I ignored them and pushed through a large crowds who were getting a bit unruly. I found a table right on the main street. How lucky can a guy get, seriously.

Every town I mean every town has a town square and most town squares have a church. Nothing can compare to the beautiful cathedral of Leon, Nicaragua but this little church had its charms.
It took me some time to get the crowds to disperse and have all the vendors move their carts but everyone eventually co operated and I got the shot. Did I mention this town was freaking hot!

Well Posadas is not with out it charms. A nice square, long clean waterfront, a great view on Paraguay and the jump off  point for the Jesuit Ruins of St. Ignacio. It was worth the two days.